An event on communication in animal research in Germany this week has called on more scientists to step forward and raise awareness.
Attended by more than 80 members of the biomedical community, a panel of experts from research, animal welfare and the science media came together to discuss the topic, Improving Openness in Animal Research in Germany, at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), in Tübingen. The event was supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).
Setting the scene, EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said that while progress had been made in Germany on communication there is still a significant reluctance within many academic institutions, and amongst scientists, towards conducting a more open and consistent dialogue with the public.
‘If you are in public research you have to expect that the general public will take an interest in what you do,’ he added.
Expanding on the theme, Nancy Erickson (pictured), qualified vet and animal welfare officer at, Freie Universität Berlin, and a member of animal research awareness group Pro-Test Germany, reminded the audience that: ‘By remaining silent we do create a space for misconceptions about animal research.
‘If you are only communicating in a defensive mode then you are in a difficult situation. When you are proactive you can use the quiet times to build trust with the public.’
Dr. Andreas Lingering (pictured), animal research & welfare officer, Max Planck Society, explained how the Society produced a White Paper setting out in detail its approach to animal research, had set up an ethics curriculum on animal experimentation and redesigned its website with good explanations of its research using animals.
He reminded the audience that it is important not to make ‘exaggerated promises’ about the results of animal research in order to remain credible to the media and the public.
Finally, Volker Stollorz, of the German Science Media Centre, illustrated how damaging a reluctance to talk could be and the need to realise that animal research creates real ethical conflicts.
He added: ‘Speak out on animal research to the media, but to create a climate of trust and transparency you should also talk about your values and not just facts and figures.’
In the panel discussion that followed the audience asked how it would be possible for researchers to communicate on top of a full-time job?
While some talked of incentives for researchers, Kirk Leech it should remain optional for scientists to take on this role as it was a skill that not everyone could have.
‘What EARA would like to see is institutions creating an environment where speaking out is a normal part of scientific research.’
Other audience questions included fears about the repercussions of transparency and openness.
Volker Stollorz thought that the risks resulting from communicating were not significant and added: ‘The greatest danger is in fact not talking about animal research. We need to trust the public and they will make better decisions with the information we give them.’